Proposed Draft Guidance for Nationally Consistent Coastal Zone Area Contingency Plan Observations

Port Bureau News,
Workers deployed more than 71,000 feet of boom in the Houston Ship Channel near the Texas City Dike in response to an oil spill. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard.

On November 10, 2022, the United States Coast Guard (“USCG”) published their “Proposed Draft Guidance for Nationally Consistent Coastal Zone Area Contingency Plan Architecture” for comment, 87 FR 67922, document 2022-24521.

The USCG is proposing to modernize the Coastal Area Contingency Plans (“ACP”) to improve usability and attain national consistency. This new, standardized construct will better enable industry plan writers of Vessel Response Plans (“VRP”) and Facility Response Plans (“FRP”) with multiple and diverse operating areas to consistently align with USCG-approved ACPs. A more standardized approach will minimize confusion due to highly variable ACP structures and content and will also facilitate more efficient responses, especially for large-scale responses requiring the mobilization of personnel and resources from outside a region. Additionally, adopting a nationally consistent architecture will facilitate the USCG’s development of more modern app-based ACP products for end users.

Adopting a national modernized format for the ACP will allow these plans to become more usable for first responders. Having the geographic response strategies in the same location in every ACP will make it easier for responders to locate the critical information needed for the protection of sensitive areas and the required priorities for those geographic areas. The new formatting also requires a more frequent review of these strategies to ensure the information is accurate and up to date. Additionally, this will make the ACPs easier to use for responders and industry stakeholders that are required to develop response plans that are aligned and consistent with the ACPs.  Having a nationally consistent format and an up-to-date ACP will allow for industry-level plans to be easier to develop and remain consistent with the National Response Framework and the ACPs.  This is especially important for plan holders who have facilities and terminals located in multiple ACP-covered areas.

Under this standardized framework, sections 6000, 7000, 8000, and 9000 along with Annex E, and Annex K will be the most important sections on which responders, plan holders, and response organizations should focus. These sections will aid responders in developing response priorities, booming strategies, and protection strategies following a release or discharge.  Familiarity with these sections of the ACP is necessary for all users of an ACP to ensure an effective response. Additionally, industry plan holders must also be familiar with these sections to ensure that their FRPs are aligned with the current information found within these sections.

For the Houston Ship Channel Security District members, this new formatting will provide an easier-to-use ACP that will improve the necessary coordination needed in responding to an oil discharge or hazardous material release.  One of the biggest changes will be the review and update cycle for geographic response strategies that will require plan holders to check the ACP more often to ensure none of the response priorities have changed: plan holders, whether required by regulation or just by best practice, must stay familiar with changes and updates to the ACP.  Once the proposed changes are approved and published, plan holders will need to review their existing plans against these and make updates accordingly.  

The easiest way for plan holders and others in the area to stay apprised of the layout and information contained within the ACP is to attend the Area Committee meetings and participate in Area Level exercises. It will not change how plan updates or responses are done for oil or HAZMAT releases but will make it easier to locate the information needed.

For the ACPs to be overall community plans, as they were intended, will also require participation by the Area Committees in each region that help develop and implement the ACPs.  Organizations, industry stakeholders, oil spill removal organizations, and local, state, and federal government representatives all must be participants in ensuring that the ACP for their areas are viable, up to date, and that responders and plan holders are familiar with the plan during an actual response.

Having alignment of the ACPs from federal, state, county/parish, and industry is a critical step in having a better-coordinated response. This proposed Coastal ACP architectural layout is a step in the right direction. ACPs now have a five-year national panel review and approval process that helps to ensure that these plans stay more up to date than they had in the past and will help them keep pace with emerging response technologies.

About the Authors

Eric Pugh
Senior Regulatory Consultant
Witt O’Brien’s, Part of the Ambipar Group  

John Carroll
Associate Managing Director-Compliance Services
Witt O’Brien’s, Part of the Ambipar Group